That shallow decade

In an article in the Times today Libby Purves assures us that the Tories have changed. What’s more so has Britain and we’re all the better for it. She’s talking about the Tories and the Britain of the 80s: the decade of Thatcherism, loadsamoney, Section 28, miners’ strikes and the Falklands War. She says:

[T]hat shallow decade can’t be repeated. Britain is — believe it or not — much pleasanter and more thoughtful than it was on emerging from the bruising, punkish, strikebound 1970s. During the 1980s, remember, hardly anybody in government gave a damn about the environment: debates about badgers and newts were confined to the backwaters of the House of Lords, and welfare organic farming — when we took it up in 1990 — was widely and viciously mocked. Homophobia flowered into Section 28 of the Local Government Act. Racial discrimination was technically illegal but dislike was open: who can forget Lord Tebbit’s weird remark on the Today programme about the Ugandan-Asian born Yasmin Alibhai-Brown :“This Miss Brown may think she’s British . . .”

I can’t help but admire the way Purves deftly palms off the blame for the aggressive atmosphere of ‘that shallow decade’ onto the one that preceded it, or rather its tail end when Labour were in power; but the 80s was a far more abrasive decade than the 70s. Where the 70s spat, the 80s bludgeoned. And bludgeoned and bludgeoned. It was as though Mrs Thatcher saw herself as Churchill in drag and her battles – with Argentina, with the miners, with anybody and everybody (even members of her own party) – as a second Second World War.

In a way it was a war, but Argentines aside, it was mostly a war with ourselves as we tried to work out who we were and what we believed in because this was the decade when the consensus around our national identity and culture broke down. The 70s might have been a decade of ‘socialism’ but it was also the last decade it was possible to talk unchallenged of Britain as a Christian nation. I remember the 80s as the decade in which my family stopped watching the Queen’s Speech on Christmas Day; the decade in which it became acceptable, even in the more conservative parts of the country, to live together ‘outside of wedlock’ (what a quaint expression that seems now); and the decade in which we stopped thinking of non-white Britons as ‘immigrants’, or at least started the process. It was also, courtesy of AIDS, the decade in which we started to openly discuss (and accept) homosexuality.

It’s really only now that i can see, looking back, what a time of upheaval it was. Despite the way in which Purves contrasts the 80s and the more socially enlightened times we live in now, it was the 80s when, half-hidden by the belligerent materialism of the decade, the very developments she describes began to put out shoots. It’s ironic really that the things the Tories wanted to preserve – monarchism, Christianity, marriage and so on – are the very things their economic philosophy helped to undermine. The more individuals were ‘encouraged’ to be self-sufficient, the more their dependence on (and consequently attachment to) traditional institutions weakened.

Whether or not that’s a good or a bad thing depends on your point of view. It has certainly created problems for us as a society, problems we have so far failed to find convincing solutions to. Dispersed and disconnected families, buildings in which so-called ‘neighbours’ live side by side for years without so much as speaking to one another, an increasing fear of crime – of being robbed or short-changed by A.N. Other; these are less pleasant manifestations of our modern self-oriented culture.

I wonder if we really are more ‘thoughtful’? I think we are certainly more careful in what we say about one another. But how much does that reflect progress in our attitudes and how much does it reflect the fact that without a common culture it is hard to work out what the boundaries of the acceptable are? We over-censor or we fail to censor ourselves at all. The war with ourselves has gone undercover now: it’s waged mostly anonymously via comments on news articles, and to a lesser extent on blogs and social network sites. I don’t know about ‘pleasanter’. To my eyes it looks vicious.

Transman, FTM, tranny… do names matter?

(I don’t know how interesting this post will be to anyone who isn’t transsexual..)

Some of us call ourselves transmen. Others prefer to insert a space and make it trans men. And yet another group prefer the older FTM or its variants such as F2M. Then there’s what we might call the ‘hard core’ who insist on MTM, because after all they’ve always been men at least in their own minds, or even just men, unqualified by anything suggesting change or ambiguity. Oh, and let us not forget those who identify as genderqueer.

Does it matter? If one person is happy to be referred to as a transsexual while another demands that they’re identified as a transsexual person, because “i’m a human being who happens to be transsexual, not a transsexual who happens to be human”, is that an issue? My answer would be no, it isn’t – as long as you don’t try to force your own terminology down the throats of others. And in case you’re not sure what i have in mind by ‘force’ here are a few examples: guilt tripping, PC policing, and my pet hate, just because i love language, citing pseudo-grammatical claptrap about not using ‘adjectives’ as ‘nouns’.

There are far too many passive-aggressive (and quite a few just plain aggressive) people in our trans communities, far too many people who object to anybody other than themselves deciding what they can and can’t be called, yet who feel free to make the decision for others. So i find myself reading things like “the use of the word transsexual as a noun is offensive to trans people”. Really? Odd. I’m a transsexual and it doesn’t offend me. Don’t remember anyone ever asking me about it either.

The real reason this sort of thing annoys me though is that i do think there are names which are unacceptable. The word tranny for instance might possibly have some value as an in-word (although i’m yet to come across it being used in that way) but there’s no doubt that in any other context it’s the equivalent of calling a trans person (actually, usually a trans woman) a nigger. Yes, that horrible.

By obsessing about trivia – should we or should we not put a space in transman – we reduce the power of our criticisms of names that actually are insulting. We also end up fighting battles with our allies when we should we concentrating on the war against intolerance. It’s not over yet.